01/26/2001 - Updated 04:19 PM ET

Week in review,
Jan. 22-26, 2001

By John Wilen, USATODAY.com

Week in Review features.

Blame the Internet

So, California goes and deregulates its energy industry too fast — or too much, depending on whom you ask — and blame for the resulting rolling blackouts is placed, naturally, on the Internet. Hey, why not? The Net is blamed for many other things, Net adoptions gone awry among them, so why not make our favorite global computer network the scapegoat for California's power woes? It seems the current 'controversy' has been flamed by the resurgence of a claim made to Congress last year by Mark Mills — an energy analyst, former consultant for the energy industry and editor of investment newsletter Digital Power Report — that the Internet economy will eventually sap 50% of the nation's power. Other experts call these claims "urban legends," and say the computers powering the Net actually use only 3% to 8% of the nation's electricity. Plus, the Net saves billions of dollars by using less fossil fuel and by pumping up productivity, the experts argue.

Hackers block access to Microsoft sites

It wasn't a good week to be a Microsoft Web site. Hackers deluged the software giant's Net servers with fake traffic Thursday morning, rendering sites like Microsoft.com and MSN.com unavailable to many who tried to access them (that's a shame). This 'denial-of-service'-style attack is similar to the ones that brought down several prominent Web sites last year and landed the Canadian youth known to the world as 'Mafiaboy' in hot water. No perps have yet been identified in this week's attacks, but the company is blaming employee error for a server problem one day before the attack which also left many of the same sites unavailable. Unrelated to all these troubles (or so we presume), on Tuesday hackers defaced Microsoft's New Zealand site, leaving for the world of people who actually knew Microsoft had a separate site just for the South Pacific archipelago the hacker-ese declaration: "security wuz broke'n!"

Super Bowl meets high technology

Every year, the Super Bowl becomes a little more high-tech. Last year, it was ABC's Enhanced TV. This year, CBS will unveil a new replay technology called EyeVision that will use 33 robotic cameras to pan and focus at the same point on the field to produce rotating three-dimensional-like pictures. If you think that's cool, check this out: CBS will also invite viewers to head online to vote for the big games' Most Valuable Player. Fans' votes will count about 20% toward determining the winner of the award.

'Gimme your lunch ... fingers ... Ah, forget it.'

While we're on the subject of high technology changing staples of American culture, consider how difficult it's going to be for big kids to shake down little kids for their lunch money in the ever-changing technological age: Biometric fingerprint scanners being tested in school cafeterias would allow students to pay for their lunches electronically.

'Ooops' marks the Web site

It's bad enough when a hacker breaks into an e-commerce site and steals or exposes private customer information. (And, of course, it's worse when the company sells that information to another firm.) But accidentally leaving the information out there on a public Web site for anyone to see takes the cake. Yet that's what happened at online travel agency Travelocity.com this week, where the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of 45,000 customers were compromised when a back-office server that contained the data was put to use running the company's Web site.

Well, if it's in your privacy policy I guess it's OK...

The Federal Trade Commission this week quietly ended its probe of online ad firm DoubleClick. The investigation — begun with much fanfare last year after DoubleClick plans to link Web users' anonymous online surfing habits with names and addresses were exposed — concluded that "DoubleClick never used or disclosed" consumers' personal identifying information "for purposes other than those disclosed in its privacy policy." If you find yourself encouraged by the FTC's brave conclusion, click here for an analysis of how well-written and clear Web site privacy policies are.

You thought their last spokesperson was annoying

We know William Shatner can't sing. Let's hope Sarah Jessica Parker, the erstwhile Capt. Kirk's replacement as Priceline.com's spokesperson, doesn't try. The name-your-own-price e-tailer this week hired Parker, star of HBO's Sex and the City, as its new pitchwoman, despite the fact that Kirk, er, Shatner (is there really any difference?), remains under contract with the company until October. The company — rather tactfully we might add — said it has no plans to use Shatner in its ads though the first quarter of this year, and that after that, no decision has been made.

When does virtual trash become real trash

Ah, the computer age. You know, those computers can do just about anything. Including, if you're a real sicko, help you generate "virtual" child pornography — that is, trash that looks like real child pornography but is actually a collection of disparate images pulled together by some aforementioned sicko. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to hear a challenge to The Child Pornography Prevention Act's ban on the possession or distribution of any visual depiction that "appears to be" or "conveys the impression" of a child engaging in a sexually explicit act.

Outdig, outdo, outscoop

Unofficial online Survivor sites are gearing up to once again challenge the super-secrecy imposed on all things Survivor by CBS and executive producer Mark Burnett. Let's hope they do a better job this time (remember the "mistake" by CBS' Web site that seemed to reveal the outcome of Survivor 1, as reported by an online fan site? It was planted by Burnett to throw the cyber-snoops off). This season, there are three major Survivor fan Web sites. Two, SurvivorSucks.com and SurvivorNews.net — are involved in a childish battle over who's the most legit. Let the games begin.

Hot Site of the week


The 2001 Sundance Online Film Festival presents 18 projects that include animation, live action shorts and interactive digital media from around the globe. (Registration required.)


Fun Site of the week


Our new president allegedly says that in Texas they have a word for "smartypantses" like those folks at Modern Humorist: "Smartypants folks." Hmmmm.


Useful Site of the week


Consumers spend billions of dollars annually in attempting to lose weight through various diet regimes. Nutrition.gov aims to help Americans better evaluate appropriate weight-loss strategies.


Tech Investor this week

Job cuts hit giant tech firms

Well, this didn't take long. Just a week or so after completing its mega-merger, AOL Time Warner laid off 2,000 workers and said it would close 130 Warner Studio retail stores, which employ 3,800. Lucent jumped into the job-cutting fray, announcing plans to cut 16,000 jobs as part of a restructuring aimed at saving the telecom equipment maker $2 billion annually. And WorldCom, which completed its own mega-merger not all that long ago, joined the bandwagon, announcing plans to lay off as many as 11,550.

Product story of the week

Study: Some drivers can't juggle digital distractions

A vehicle simulator used in the government's first attempt to measure how drivers deal with electronic distractions — from cell-phone calls to in-car Internet news bulletins — has shown that one out of six drivers can't handle all of the devices and still keep the car on the road.


Game story of the week

Report: Sega Dreamcast to be discontinued

Sega will halt production of its Dreamcast video-game console by the end of March, according to The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

Answer desk tip of the week

Q: What does LOL mean?

A: LOL is an acronym used frequently in chat rooms, message boards and even in e-mail. It stands for Laugh Out Loud, and it's a term that's meant to convey exactly what it says — generally after a particularly witty remark. You can brush up on a lot more Net lingo by checking out the Ultimate Chatlist at www.chatlist.com/newcfdocs/searchacro.cfm.

'Ask Matt' investment question of the week

Q: Can you list the names of companies that make optical networking switches, fibers, etc.?

Matt's answer: Optical-networking firms make products that turn voice or data into light pulses that travel across glass wires. The benefits include faster transmission speeds (which let consumers surf the Internet at high speeds) or the ability to push more traffic over fewer lines (which should lower the cost of Internet access). Such benefits explain why investors got so excited about the sector in 2000. There are a number of ways to play the industry (but keep reading to understand the tremendous risks). Corning is a popular choice for investors that want to bet on the most basic aspect of the fiber-optic network upgrade. It's the leading maker of the fiber-optic lines that all the traffic travels through. These lines are needed no matter what type of fiber-optic network is being built, ranging from a transcontinental network or even one just for a city. But Corning also makes a number of "components" used to amplify or modify the optical signals. These include boosters that strengthen the optical pulse so they can travel for long distances. Here, Corning faces off with a variety of rivals in this space, most notably JDS Uniphase and SDL (which is being acquired by JDS). Other players include Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems and Lucent, to some degree.

There are also dozens of firms that make specialized devices used in optical networks. Those include Oplink and ONI Systems. There are also companies that make chips that go into the optical network devices such as PMC-Sierra or the network gear makers such as Juniper Networks. A company called Avenex makes devices that filter optical signals and Bookham makes optical gear that it sells to companies like Nortel and Lucent. It's impossible to discuss all the players in the optical network industry here. Hopefully you get a flavor for the industry. But for more information, I'd suggest you check out Hoovers Online at www.hoovers.com and read profiles of some of the companies I've pointed out. Hoovers will direct you to profiles of other companies in the industry. But beware: Many of these stocks are valued not on fundamentals, but on expectations. Investors sent many of these stocks on an upward tear in 2000 based on sky-high assumptions about optical-networking sales. This presents a huge risk for investors because it's likely that these assumptions may have been premature. It's also obvious that not all these companies will survive, and that the losers may be trampled.

Notable quotables of the week

"Intel uses energy, but it ain't a steel mill. When Microsoft sells billions of dollars of software, it uses very little energy. Compare that to manufacturing thousands of autos."

-- Joseph Romm, a former U.S. Department of Energy official, who runs the nonpartisan Center for Energy and Climate Solutions in Annandale, Va., on the tech industry's contribution to the California power crisis.

"I think we can do a stop-action move like in the movie The Matrix, ... but from video as a live replay."

-- Craig Farrell, a technical manager a CBS, on the network's new high-tech EyeVision replay technology, which will be used in this year's Super Bowl.

"The whole Internet Survivor thing is just like the real thing, with the backbiting, the alliances."

-- Tricia McLeod, Webmaster of Survivor fan site SurvivorFever, on the intense rivalry between Survivor fan sites.

"DoubleClick never used or disclosed [consumers' personal identifying information] for purposes other than those disclosed in its privacy policy."

-- Federal Trade Commission official Joel Winston, in a letter to the online ad firm saying the agency was ending its investigation into whether DoubleClick improperly amassed personal information about Internet users.

Contributing: A.S. Berman, Tamara Holmes and wire services.

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